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Castelfalfi's Picchio Reale Project, Tuscany

Inside the expansive Italian estate, a shop where designers rework discarded and natural materials

by Ariston Anderson in Travel on 11 July 2014

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When artist and designer Adolfo Pistolesi heard that the new Castelfalfi project—whose mission is to breathe new life into an 800-year-old village in Tuscany, Italy—was in need of local shops on their expansive estate, he decided to embark upon a big career change. As director of the nearby Castellare Di Tonda resort for 12 years, Pistolesi decided it was time to return to a full-time creative path and opened up the Picchio Reale Project (or the Royal Woodpecker Project) with his partner, artist Theresia Lang.

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Castelfalfi is one of Europe’s largest tourism projects, with an investment of €180 million from TUI AG—a German multinational travel and tourism company. The estate is set over 2,700 acres of vineyards, olive groves, forests, rolling hills and lakes and currently includes a medieval borgo (or "borough") complete with original castle. People reside in the handful of apartments and country villas (there are plans to open a five-star hotel and spa by 2016); the next step is opening more shops that sell locally-made products. As one of the first shops to open, Picchio Reale Project represents the larger spirit that's driving Castelfalfi, which aims to bring back the cultural traditions of old Tuscany for new visitors to experience.

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Inside Picchio Reale Project, visitors will find a wealth of beautifully handcrafted collaborations between the two artists—Pistolesi focusing on local wood and Lang using terra cotta as her primary medium. There are incredible cutting boards and cheese platters made from the chestnut wood of old wine barrels. (Once treated in olive oil, their original colors of burgundy and maroon shine through, the result of aging thousands of liters of Tuscan wine over the past century.) Also on view are a variety of delicate boxes (made from wine wood and olive wood) and a bright handmade chessboard, built in the classic Tuscan style but from repurposed wood. There are towering mirrors and framed peacock feathers bordered in old wood, wine bottle glasses cut in half and paired with different bases—inside hides a candle set to serve as a beautiful source of light.

There’s a possibility to transform everything into something new.

Pistolesi has been creating works of art with wood and other materials since the '80s and says, “There’s a possibility to transform everything into something new.” He doesn’t throw anything away when creating pieces but will always find a use for every scrap of material, no matter how big or small.

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Recycling old materials is key to Pistolesi’s work, whether it’s with shipping pallets, furniture, fallen trees found by the seaside, doors or windows. “I don’t look for the material,” he says. "The material finds me." After seeing local farmers burning century-old wine barrels, he asked instead if he could repurpose them. “It was once a tree. It’s a pity to throw it away or watch it burn,” he says.

Aside from the shop, Lang and Pistolesi’s work permeates the estate. With the opening of Castelfalfi’s country villas and apartments, the couple has been commissioned to make a variety of custom-designed furniture for the new residents. And when Castelfalfi’s castle restaurant La Rocca di Castelfalfi opened this past June, Michelin-star chef Michele Rinaldi was in need of a vessel to hold grissini—Pistolesi spent a good deal of time in the restaurant before coming up with a sleek long rectangular holder, instead of the traditional oval baskets.

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A stop at Picchio Reale Project—to see the best of new Tuscan design, made from the region's rich and varied materials—is a must for anyone visiting the picture-perfect region, and a visit to Castelfalfi sees the pieces used in real life. Castelfalfi is located at 50050 Montaione, Florence, Italy.

Photos by Ariston Anderson

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